Monday, September 21, 2015

Third Monday with Bob Boldt

Le Morte d’Arthur

By Bob Boldt

Having lost all the color of life, the white, blue, and green tinted naked body lies so very flat on the cold stainless steel table. The silence of the room is rendered even more desolate by the faint hum of the refrigeration unit laboring to keep the others preserved in the morgue across the hall.
    Call it a man for want of a better word – for whatever force or dreams once animated its limbs and filled the soft brain beneath this skull has long since fled. Can we say that what lies on this austere table is now considerably less than the sum of its parts? Soon, when the pathologist finishes, he will be defined only by the disassembled parts themselves: liver, spleen, brain, and the never to be digested contents of the stomach. This is a lean corpse, toes pointed inward as if possessed by some last impulse of prayer. From the large toe of the left foot hangs the tag reading simply “Arthur Frank.”
    One can never ever mistake a body, dead for more than an hour or two, with a living one. It is not just a matter of the color or lack of the ruddy, living pallor of life. It can best be described as a quality of flatness. Autopsy manuals describe it as one of the aspects of morbidity: that profound relaxation of muscles, ligaments, bones, and flesh. The form on the table has a deflated, a sunken-into-itself, quality that no sleeping body could ever possess. Even the prominent features of the face seem somehow collapsed. The nose has flattened, the lips pressed downward even more profoundly against the underlying teeth in a strange seeming anticipation as if awaiting a blow. Under the pull of gravity, cheeks hang more like thick fleshy drapes from their bones than the muscular vehicles of animated expression that once were so willing. No one would ever suspect that a smile of joy or grimace of pain could ever lift and reanimate them again. Such is the final transition from man to object.
    This particular object, stripped and bare, is now ready for its next metamorphosis. The saws and knives and all the other sharp, shiny, analyzing autopsy instruments soon will further hasten this shadow of a man on his journey from godly reflection to meat.
    Yet even this one, who possesses features so common with all the other occupants of this place, does have clues unique to his story and, perhaps more important to the pathologist – clues as to what brought him to this sorry pass. A glance will tell you that here lies no well-groomed banker, fat, beloved paterfamilias, or feared captain of industry. His graying mop is long and unkempt. Stubble suggests at least a week’s worth of unshaven beard yellowed around the dark, cracked lips as if by nicotine. It appears that some blood has been wiped away here, leaving small ruminant granules coagulated on the lower lip. What one is able to see of the brown-stained, misshapen teeth that remain does nothing to contradict the forming verdict that this one may have been in life counted among the countless population of the aged and neglected homeless. Yes, here is an old tattoo above the bluish purple left nipple and the shoulder. A battleship with a blossoming plume of smoke framing the backdrop for the proudly scrolled words “U. S. Merchant Marine” rolls the delicate waves steaming toward the arm pit.
    Otherwise the sunken, emaciated chest frames nothing else of interest apart from a deep blue bruise below the right collarbone that the examiner may find of interest. Do broken bones lie beneath? Nothing will escape his dissections.
    The equally unremarkable tattooless arms, lying to either side, terminate in tanned, rugged hands that, if they could, might tell a story more profound than the rest of the body combined. Scarred in places and bearing more than a normal number of strong veins and huge calluses, they seem more like the hands of a naked bear than a man. As expected, the yellowed nails are long, broken and irregular, something out of a manicurist’s nightmare. These are clearly the hands of a working man that hadn’t lifted a pen or pencil to do more than sign his name since he was gladly liberated from grammar school.
    The door opens as the pathologist enters. The light over the autopsy table floods the body with harsh cold light washing out all color and shape, seemingly rendering the body in two dimensions. Soon the distant hum of the refrigeration system is silenced by the sharp whirr of an electrical saw. The work has begun.

Copyright © 2015 by Bob Boldt


  1. Great writing as always Bod. I could truly picture the body and found it somewhat disturbing but beautiful at the same time.

    1. Right you are, Ed. And I only for the first time (if I remember aright) notice the discrepancy between the photo and the text. The toes in the photo aren't pointed inward, nor is the tag on the left foot....Obviously that isn't Arthur [or Arthur's corpse] pictured in the photo – either that, or someone rearranged his feet and moved the tag.

  2. Bod is not only a good writer he loves mind games. I didn't catch that.

    1. Ed, at first I thought your referring to Bob as "Bod" was a typo, but now I think you're making a joke at poor Arthur’s expense?
          Also, you probably can’t see death in feet as clearly as you can in eyes, but do the feet in that photo look like the feet of a corpse? They look kind of alive to me, as though the person they’re a part of would laugh if one of us tickled them....
          My, how we joke. Do you think it’s a defensive reaction in the presence of these thoughts of death?